JAC Online

The Problem of Human [Dis]obedience,
the Providence of a Supernatural God

by Cadet Erin Wikle


In the Beginning


To say, it began in the beginning, may seem to some all too simple. Disobedience began in the garden. And within the well-known story within The Story is a well-crafted, intentioned tale of God’s design gone awry when His created, His beloved, His Ish and Ishah, His male and female, fell prey to a crafty serpent lingering about, waiting to whisper lies to the listening ears of His beloved. And so it began. In the beginning.


Chronicling the creation story, Genesis 1-3 details God’s sequential plan in creatively calling into existence the heavens and earth: light out from darkness, the sky and its expanse, the watery deep, and land which would yield abundant life – and He calls each touch and flourish of His creative process good. And then, He arrives to “the crown of creation” and breathes life into ha-adam, that is אדם , humankind in its plurality, both male and female (Gen. 1:29-30, The Voice).


As His crown of creation, Adam and Eve, is where our story—that is the story of humanity’s constant struggle with disobedience—begins. Created within shalom (perfect peace), Adam and Eve shared in perfect relationship and perfect unity with God. They loved Him, and He loved them. But as the story goes, this perfect peace and fellowship was broken through a simple act of disobedience against God Himself. In a simple moment, the seething lies whispered behind the guise of a harmless garden snake seeped deep into the mind and heart of Eve, causing a certain tension between reality and fantasy to rise from within. Does God really care? Does He love me? And so this moment of doubt gives way to disobedience and life would never be the same again. But could it?


The truth of the matter is… life wouldn’t be the same again. But, shalom could be restored. Peace could be found. Reconciliation could occur. And the otherness that resulted could become oneness again. There is hope. It came born through the person of Jesus Christ, the Promised One, who, though His head would be crushed, would in turn strike his (the Enemy’s) heel (Gen. 3:15b). Christ would rise victorious in restoring shalom and making things right again.


In his book, The Blue Parakeet, author Scot McKnight writes:


God did push Adam and Eve out of the garden of Eden lest they should “live forever” in their “otherness condition.” That act of God was an act of mercy – an act that ultimately anticipates the cross of Christ, Jesus’ act of dying our death forgives us of our complicity in Adam and Eve’s sin by assuming what we deserved: death. (Scot McKnight 2008, 76)


 And so through God’s providence and mercy, Adam and Eve are banished from the garden and the story of God’s plan to restore what was broken continued.


To Be Continued


Disobedience is something we learn at an early age. Children are taught the difference between right and wrong, good and bad, and are guided in making such decisions based on the reality of consequence. If a child makes a right or good decision, only positive, good, or neutral consequences will follow. If a child makes a wrong or bad decision, only negative consequences will follow. Our understanding of obedience, at the very origin of our cognitive development, is largely consequential. The problem with learning about disobedience at such a young age is that most children are unable to reason that their actions should not be driven by consequence but by rightness or wrongness itself. Further, within these early years, children are almost entirely unable to comprehend that choosing right from wrong, good from bad, and better from best, should not just be driven by morality, but by the tenants of loving, mutually submissive relationship with those responsible for their rearing.


Basic psychology teaches, “Obedience is a form of social influence where an individual acts in response to a direct order from another individual, who is usually an authority figure” (Saul McLeod 2007). The problem here, however, is that this definition elevates authoritative relationship, which, in turn perpetuates the problem of consequentialism. It should come as no surprise that our present philosophy is reflective of our earliest encounters of “trying” to be good, “trying” to come under authority, and “trying” to keep track of what will keep our limited and lacking understanding of authoritative relationship intact. It is within the very vein of our “trying” that we fail and find ourselves further and further from success in seeking to become obedient to what we sometimes consider a punitive God.


So, as we consider our very broken understanding of obedience and authority as it pertains to human relationship, it should also come as no surprise that our relationship with God is similarly reflective of this same wrong understanding. Yet, yielding our conditioned ideas of obedience is requisite to embracing the reality that, we are, in fact, bred—created—for obedience. How is this so? Is this not by its very nature contradictory to everything said thus far? We must take care to consider that Adam and Eve did not directly disobey God for fear of consequences. Their disobedience resulted from a moment of broken fellowship with their Creator. They were designed for relationship; thereby, they were created for fellowship through obedience to God.


Yet, through the insidious introduction of a lie, fellowship was broken, and mistrust grew quickly and deeply within the heart of woman and man, causing a rift to split wide in their relationship with the Creator God. Adam and Eve were created to live within the safety of obedience to God because their relationship with Him was perfect, without blemish, free of defect. His work in fixing the travesty that took place in the Garden initiated our collective opportunity from that moment on to be reconciled with the Creator of the universe. This would be accomplished. And even through the consequence of banishment, we see the loving hand of a merciful God in His sending His beloved away, covered and cared for, and certainly not alone.


The Outflow of Restored Relationship


Yet, there was consequence. Adam and Eve were sent away, told to leave the Garden, their home and place of complete peace. And from then on, history would continue to tell its countless stories of broken relationship within humanity and with God, detailing His every effort to offer a promise of protection, provide for His people’s needs, and rescue them from complete and utter self-destruction. The story within The Story is one of restored relationship, of “fixing” what went wrong in the Garden, of calling each one of us to come under the sovereign covering of a loving and generous God, to share freely in life with one another. And so the outflow of such restored relationship becomes obedience, and the result of obedience becomes freedom through submission.


Storyteller, American writer, and theologian Carl Frederick Buechner writes in his collection of theological “ABCs” and cleverly notes:



We have freedom to the degree that the master whom we obey grants it to us in return for our obedience […] The old prayer speaks of God ‘in whose service is perfect freedom.’ The paradox is not as opaque as it sounds. It means that to obey Love himself, who above all else wishes us well, leaves us the freedom to be the best and gladdest that we have it in us to become. The only freedom Love denies us in the freedom to destroy ourselves ultimately. (Frederick Buechner 1993, 34)


And so we see this great paradox play out throughout scripture and within our faith journey – do you want to save your life? Then lose it (Matt. 16:25, NIV). And as Buechner notes – do you want freedom? Be obedient. But what lies at the crux (quite literally) of both our ability and our impulse to live in obedience to God is Love Himself, Jesus Christ, crucified for all humanity to make right, once and for all, all that went wrong in the Garden. And so here we find that love… simply… suffices.


God’s intention was that we would live in a state of love and harmony with him, with one another, and with the rest of creation. He also made us free, wanting us to love him voluntarily, not as puppets. That freedom was, and is, misused, which accounts for the pain and paradox of our condition. (Handbook of Doctrine 2013, 109)


So perhaps the childhood (and childlike) constructs with which we have learned obedience as a behavior and response must be demolished. We are granted a glorious privilege for freedom in Christ through our loving commitment to Him, the outflow of obedient hearts. Because the reality is this: obedience is as much about real, covenanted relationship as disobedience is about sin and separation. His call to us is not to live in fear, but in awe of Him. His hope for us is to live in agreement with His plans and purposes, not in discord with them. His purpose for us it to live in loving obedience to Him, not in worry of retribution and consequences. This was what He had in mind from the very beginning.





Works Cited


Buechner, Frederick. Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC Revised and Expanded. New York, NY:  HarperCollins, 1993.


McKnight, Scot. The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 2008.


McLeod, Saul. "Obedience to Authority." Simply Psychology. CreativeCommons, 2007. Accessed July 25, 2016. http://www.simplypsychology.org/obedience.html.


The Holy Bible. New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011.


The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine. London: Salvation Books, 2013.


The Voice Bible: Step into the Story of Scripture. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc., 2012.









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